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Journal of Business Strategy

Sport hospitality as a business strategy


Ram Herstein Eugene D. Jaffe
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Ram Herstein Eugene D. Jaffe, (2008),"Sport hospitality as a business strategy", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 29 Iss 6 pp. 36 - 43
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Sport hospitality as a business strategy
Ram Herstein and Eugene D. Jaffe
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Ram Herstein is Head of the he demand for sport tourism throughout the world has risen in recent years primarily
Marketing Program and
Eugene D. Jaffe is Head of
the MBA Program, both at
T because of a greater emphasis on health and fitness and the increased use of sport
events by cities in order to attract sport tourists. Sport tourists are individuals who
participate in sport activities while on holiday and can be divided into three categories:
Ruppin Academic Center,
Emek Heffer, Israel. 1. Event participants, whose number one purpose in traveling is to take part in an organized
sport event.
2. Event spectators, whose main purpose is to watch an organized sport event.
3. Sport lovers, who travel in order to take part in self-organized sports.
In light of the great interest of tourists in sport vacations, several sport clubs, such as Club
Med, have been established in recent years, offering a variety of sports activities. The most
popular sports among such tourists are swimming, tennis, sailing, and windsurfing.
But despite the increasing demand for sports vacations, only a handful of hotels throughout
the world actually market themselves as a sports-lovers paradise of any kind. The Isrotel
Hotel Management Group provides a unique example of a hotel based entirely on the idea of
fulfilling the dreams of active sport tourists.
The purpose of this case study is twofold. First, to trace the corporate communication
process implemented by the management of Isrotel Hotels in their effort to build the new
Sport Club Hotel, focusing on internal and external communications. Second, to describe
how the marketing and promotion of sport hotels differ from that of ordinary hotels.

Isrotels corporate identity strategy


Isrotel is the third largest hotel management company in Israel, with 2,650 rooms in 12 hotels
throughout the country. Isrotel has invested heavily in recent years in the implementation of
its corporate identity as a response to intense competition from its competitors, Fattals
Hotels and Dan Hotels (with 4,500 rooms in 14 hotels and 3,150 rooms in seven hotels,
respectively, throughout the country). Dan Hotels, unlike the two other hotel chain
management companies, has chosen to reinforce its market positioning using a monolithic
corporate identity strategy. According to this strategy, the organization employs a single
name, symbol, trade dress and typestyle for all products and divisions. This strategy is
common and has been adopted by several well-known chains, including the Carlton Hotel
Collection and the Hilton Hotels chain.
In contrast to the Dan Hotels, the two other large Israeli hotel management chains have
adopted an endorsed corporate identity strategy. Under the endorsed strategy,
corporations own several products or businesses, each with its own semi-independent
identity. The Holiday Inn chain is a good example of this strategy. Fattals implemented the
endorsed corporate identity strategy by creating four different sub-brands of hotels, each

PAGE 36 j JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY j VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008, pp. 36-43, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 0275-6668 DOI 10.1108/02756660810917228
associated with the name of the chain. Isrotel has chosen to adopt this strategy in a slightly
different manner. Their idea was to create unique identities and names for each hotel, based
on the strategy of offering a hotel for every dream.
One of Isrotels 12 hotels is the Sport Club, which is based on the idea of fulfilling the
sport-oriented holiday experience. The process of building the identity of the first sports
hotel of its kind in Israel was executed in two distinct stages. First, the hotels identity was
precisely defined based on its target audiences. Second, the most efficient communication
channels for assimilating this identity among the target audiences were selected. Both
stages were completed in 2004.

Defining sport hospitality in the Sport Club Hotel


The concept of building a hotel based on a sport vacation theme was derived from surveys
undertaken in 2003 that identified trends in the hospitality sector worldwide, indicating the
growing interest of young people and young families in combining holidays with sports.
Another motivating factor was research conducted by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, which
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confirmed that the city of Eilat, on the shores of the Red Sea, is a leading tourist destination in
the Middle East. Eilat annually attracts hundreds of thousands of European tourists who want
to integrate marine sports into their holiday. The city was also perceived as being attractive
to sports teams, especially from Eastern and Western Europe, interested in holding training
camps outside their home countries.
After a thorough examination of these findings by local and international travel agencies that
work with the chain, the Isrotel Hotels management decided to establish a unique hotel that
dedicated to the sport experience. This hotel aimed to cater to two main sectors: sport lovers
who are not professional athletes mainly young tourists and families, from both Israel and
abroad, who would be interested in a sports-oriented holiday, and, second, sport clubs and
teams from Europe and elsewhere, as well as professional athletes, who would be interested
in combining training and a vacation.
To make the Sport Club Hotel more attractive to potential guests, Isrotel decided to equip it
with a large number of sports facilities in three categories: classic sports, extreme sports,
and marine sports. Facilities in the first category, classic sports, include a heated (in winter)
semi-Olympic swimming pool intended for professional swimmers and two smaller pools for
other vacationers and children; a state-of-the-art fitness center equipped with the
highest-quality training equipment, including certified, professional trainers; a professional
archery range with a certified instructor; tennis courts with a staff of instructors and
professional equipment available day and night; basketball courts available day and night;
mini-soccer fields available day and night; squash courts, including professional
equipment; lawn volleyball courts; and ping-pong tables. The main facility in the second
category, extreme sports, is a challenging climbing wall. For the third category, marine
sports, the hotel offers kayaks, pedal boats and speedboats.

Using multiple channels to establish the corporate identity


Since stakeholders are influenced in many different ways, organizations often use as many
channels and methods as possible to get their message across. The most useful corporate
communication channels in the hospitality industry are nomenclature and branding, graphic
design, formal statements, architecture, media relations and routine interactions. These
channels are summarized in Table I.

The Isrotel Hotel Management Group provides a unique


example of a hotel based entirely on the idea of fulfilling the
dreams of active sport tourists.

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VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY PAGE 37
Table I Methods of communicating a corporate identity
Method Purpose Examples

Nomenclature and branding Identify the corporation Quality Hotels extended their line into different
tiers, which they named Comfort, Quality and
Clarion
Graphic design Visually present the firm The Hilton Chains thick black logo evokes
intensity, prestige and security, whereas the logo
of Holiday Inn suggests pleasure and lightness
Formal statements Express the firms fundamental purpose Mission statements, codes of ethics, annual
reports and organizational slogans
Architecture Internal and external design and layout of facilities Child-friendly rooms for families versus work
communicates information about the hotels target stations for business people
market
Media relations Develop media contacts Find those in the media who might be interested in
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the organizations story


Routine interactions Create relationships between members of the firm Invest in training and educating personnel to
and external stakeholders create a positive image of the firm

The Isrotel management chose to use all of the above-mentioned corporate communication
channels, as is customary in the hospitality sector, to establish in peoples minds the identity
of a hotel based entirely on the concept of a sports holiday

Nomenclature and branding


Nomenclature and branding refer to the brand names that identify the corporation. Brand
names become important mainly when one organization merges with another; creating a
unique new identity may then require that one organization change its name or add to it. A
well-known example is Quality Hotels (today known as Choice Hotels), which extended their
line to include different product tiers and gave each a different name (Comfort, Quality, and
Clarion).
To strengthen its endorsed corporate identity strategy, the Isrotel management looked for a
means by which its local clients would form the connection between the private brand name
(Sport Club) and the family brand name (Isrotel). This it achieved primarily through its
website, which presents all 12 hotels under the Isrotel name and the slogan A hotel for every
dream you have. Thus, the concept of a sport-oriented holiday became linked with the
name of the chain. In addition, all international travel agencies that worked with the Isrotel
chain in Europe and North America received a brochure with a detailed description of all of
the chains hotels, by theme, emphasizing both the uniqueness of each hotel and their
management by a single company.

Graphic design
The corporate graphic design system covers the overall visual presentation of the firm, of
which the logo is considered the heart. Hotel chains tend to emphasize their logos, which
may be designed to symbolically express particular qualities. The thick, black Hilton logo, for
example, evokes strength, prestige and safety, whereas the Holiday Inn logo expresses
pleasure and lightness.
The Isrotel management, because logos are a central means for promoting associations
among clients, decided to register their hotel names and logos in English, rather than
Hebrew, the local language, in order to give the hotels an international flavor.

Formal statements
Formal statements include mission statements, codes of ethics, annual reports, and
organization slogans. A formal mission statement presents the organizations fundamental

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PAGE 38 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008
reason for existence and, for established companies, the quest for a mission statement often
becomes an odyssey into the organizations history and origins.
With the aim of presenting a clear message to its clients, the Isrotel management created a
directory of services for the Sport Club that included a service guarantee for a perfect
holiday. This directory of services takes the form of an elegant brochure placed in each
room, where guests can find detailed information on all the sport-related services available
during their stay (reserving sport facilities or professional equipment, booking private
lessons, ordering healthy food from a rich menu, and more). The brochure reinforces the
clients feeling that the hotel is indeed designed, down to the last detail, to fulfill the dream of
the ultimate sports holiday

Architecture
Architecture refers to the design and layout of the grounds and buildings, and what they
communicate to stakeholders about the company culture. A hotels interior design can also
be seen as a clue to the kind of customers the company seeks (e.g. families versus business
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people).
The Isrotel chain management aspired to create for the Sport Clubs clients, from the
moment of their arrival and throughout their stay, the feeling of having arrived at a sport
lovers paradise. To this end, emphasis was placed on the smallest details of the hotels
external and internal design. The facade of the hotel is decorated with images of famous
athletes several meters high, extending from the roof to the first floor. Spaces in the parking
lot are separated by concrete separators shaped like soccer, basket and tennis balls. The
hotel lobby, which is especially spacious, is designed like a sports Hall of Fame, displaying
various sport-related items belonging to both internationally-known athletes and leading
sport figures in Israel (some of whom are well-known in Europe) from the worlds of basketball
and soccer, swimming, martial arts, sailing, tennis, and track. On display before the entrance
to the dining room is an exhibition focusing on a contemporary Israeli athlete who has
reached the highest achievement in world sports. This exhibition changes periodically,
according to which athletes are most successful at the time.
Photos documenting all branches of Israeli sports adorn the walls of each floor in the hotel,
with swimming represented on the first floor, track and field on the second floor, and so
upward with soccer, basketball, martial arts, marine sports, and tennis, culminating with
Olympic sports on the eighth and highest floor. All the hotels restaurants and pubs feature
screens that display sports broadcasts and events from around the world, around the clock.

Media relations
Media relations focus on knowing who in the media might be interested in the organizations
story. Since media relations are crucial to any organization, and especially in crisis
situations, it is imperative for any organization to create a successful relationship between its
public relations staff and the media.
In order to make effective use of the media available, the Isrotel hotel management decided
to use both formal and informal sources. First, to attract new customers as well as to keep the
loyalty of existing ones, Isrotel deploys both advertising and public relations. The advertising
strategy of Isrotel communicates the companys messages using a media mix, including
both in-house and out-sourced advertising. In-house advertising at the Sport Club is

To make the Sport Club Hotel more attractive to potential


guests, Isrotel decided to equip it with a large number of
sports facilities in three categories: classic sports, extreme
sports, and marine sports.

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VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY PAGE 39
Since stakeholders are influenced in many different ways,
organizations often use as many channels and methods as
possible to get their message across.

concentrated in an internal magazine that presents the unique features of the hotel, helping
guests manage their time while enjoying the various sports activities offered. Out-sourced
advertising includes the internet and a television campaign. The internet enables Isrotel to
convey the concept of the sports holiday to its potential clients by displaying the hotels
facilities, the sports events held at the hotel, the healthy food served in the hotels dining
room and restaurants, and all of the instruction and training services that guests can enjoy
during their stay.
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Every year, as summer approaches, Isrotel introduces a television campaign to increase


awareness of the hotels potential and loyal customers to the fact that the Sport Club is the
only place where sport hospitality can be experienced. These TV campaigns are always
aired in conjunction with highly rated sports programs, mainly basketball and soccer games,
since these are the most popular sports in Israel.
Public relations efforts are considered by the Isrotel management to be crucial in
communicating the unique experience of a sports lovers paradise. The hotel holds special
sports events at certain times, especially during the summer, featuring well-known athletes
who give workshops in their areas of specialty, as well as leading coaches who conduct
workshops. In addition, the hotel sponsors international and local competitions, including
the European World Cup and the Israel Championship in the Triathlon World Cup. These
competitions receive wide exposure in the media and are actively supported by the mayor of
Eilat and key officials of the local sports scene. The events are organized as a big
happening that lasts several days and are accompanied by well-covered briefings,
opening and closing banquets, and impressive closing ceremonies and receptions for the
foreign athletes.
In Isrotels case, the informal, external communication messages come in the form of
customer feedback and word-of-mouth communications. Isrotel management encourages
guests staying at the sport hotel to complete a brief questionnaire on their experiences
during their stay. This feedback allows management to make rapid changes to improve
service at the hotel, always with the goal of hospitality combined with the strongest
sports-oriented atmosphere. Since Isrotel considers word-of-mouth the most important form
of advertising, the company makes real efforts to follow up with their customers and learn
how they describe the hotel at social events, such as hospitality and tourism conferences
and exhibitions.

Routine interactions
Routine interactions are the relationships created between members of the organization and
its external stakeholders. To create positive relationships between Isrotel and its Sport Club
Hotel customers, management uses formal and informal internal sources. To ensure that
hotel employees are aware of the unique added values of this hotel, the human resource
department compiled a handbook of procedures specifically for the Sport Club. In addition
to work procedures, this handbook specifies exactly what is permitted and expected from
each employee in general, and from each division in particular, in order to assure that hotel
guests feel that they are staying at a sport lovers paradise and that their experience at the
Sport Club is truly unique. The human resource department also implemented two formal
internal mechanisms to reinforce employees knowledge of norms and work procedures:
weekly meetings between department managers and their employees; and an annual
refresher course for hotel employees at all levels. Once a year, all employees are tested to
ascertain their knowledge of company procedures. Isrotel also decided to communicate the

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PAGE 40 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008
companys unique values in advertisements aimed at attracting potential employees to the
hotel. The ads run mainly in sports newspapers and magazines and at sports colleges and
sports events. The Isrotel management believes that it is essential to employ workers who
are sport lovers, rather than people who are indifferent to sports.
The Isrotel management is aware of the impact of informal messages in strengthening the
culture and feeling that it wishes to establish within the hotel. In order to reinforce the hotels
added values, Isrotel holds an annual gala for all employees. During this event, a great deal
of informal information is communicated, helping the hotel enhances its reputation as a fun
place to work. Informal messages are also communicated through the interactions of
employees with their direct mangers. Each new hotel employee has a personal supervisor
from among the hotels management team. Thus, the company shows its new employees
that the relationship between the hotels management and its staff is a real one and that all
employees, both newcomers and veterans, can always find a senior person to learn from
and consult with.

Management strategy of sports hotels versus other hotels


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An analysis of the strategy used by the Isrotel Hotel Management Group to manage their
sports hotel in comparison to their other hotels reveals different approaches. These two
types of hotels differ in several aspects (see Table II). Whereas the sport hotels identity is
more limited, with a focus on a sports-oriented holiday experience, the identity of a typical
hotel is more general and focused on providing a vacation that promises general freedom
and enjoyment. Although ordinary hotels have their own target markets, such as wealthy
clients, families and young couples, the target customers of a sports hotel are selected
based on psychographic variables and include only two main groups: sports lovers and
sports professionals (sports teams). Management of a sports hotel must focus only on
sport-related activities such as games, workshops, and sporting events, whereas the
management of more typical hotels offer a broader range of activities, like sightseeing,
musical entertainment, lectures and parties, which appeal to larger target groups. The food
at a sports hotel must be based on healthy menus under the supervision of expert
nutritionists, while a typical hotel offers a menu that caters to popular tastes, including richer
and less-healthy offerings. Employees of a sports hotel should be drawn from candidates

Table II Management strategy of sports hotels vs other hotels


Characteristics Sports hotel Ordinary hotel

Identity Limited identity, focused only on sports-oriented Very general identity, focused on dream
holiday experiences vacations
Mission statement Providing a sports vacation Sports lovers Providing an experiential vacation Enjoying
paradise freedom
Customer types Sports lovers (families and young people) and All kinds of customers (from children to older
sports teams (professionals) clients)
Functions Focusing only on sports activities General-enjoyment activities such as
entertainment, sightseeing trips, plays and
musicals, games, etc.
Food Based on special healthy menus Very popular food, based on favorite dishes (not
necessarily healthy)
Employees Sports lovers Do not have any special interest
Architecture Internal and external decor reflects sports Each hotel has its own thematically-based
environment internal and external decor
Advertising Sports-related media such as sports General tourist- and vacation-related media such
newspapers and TV channels as TV vacation programs, newspaper vacation
supplements and radio programs
Public relations Sporting events linked to the hotels location General events connected to hospitality,
pleasure and vacations

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VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY PAGE 41
who define themselves as sports lovers who will be up-to-date on game results and world
sporting events as well as sports history. The hotel should be designed with a sports-related
decor a magical atmosphere of sports glory and fame that will appeal to customers who
love sports. In marketing sports hotels, management should exploit sports-related media
such as sports newspapers and TV channels and should take advantage of sporting events.
In contrast, managers of ordinary hotels can market their hotels through the general media
and through events that are connected to hospitality, pleasure and vacations.

The results of the communication process


The success of marketing and communicating an identity of sport hospitality in Isrotels Sport
Club Hotel is reflected in increased occupancy rates, financial returns and results of
satisfaction surveys among primary stakeholders of the hotel chain. Before the
communication process was implemented, occupancy rates were less than 40 percent.
After the process, occupancy rates increased to 85 percent. Moreover, operating revenues
increased by 14.7 percent one year after the communication process was executed.
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According to hotel employee surveys, it appears that 76 percent of respondents are very
happy to be working at the Sport Club Hotel and feel that their job suits their sports-oriented
personality. Around 90 percent of new employees at the hotel indicated that working at there
was their first priority because of the unique atmosphere. The hotels employees speak a
common language, the language of sports, and provide a unique service at standards much
higher than customary in the hotel industry. As for the sport tourists who stay in the hotel,
some 90 percent of those surveyed stated they enjoyed a true sports holiday, and 70 percent
said they would consider coming back. In addition, in an awareness test taken by local
tourists, the hotel achieved a top rating and was associated with all the sports events that
take place in Eilat.

Implications for practitioners


As a result of the demand for sport tourism throughout the world, hospitality firms have to
work hard to learn about the best ways of providing sport vacations. Moreover, hotel groups
Keywords: all over the world can now take advantage of the high demand for sport vacations from both
Hospitality management, families and professional clients and change their hotels to sport rather than all-purpose
Communication, hotels.
Corporate identity, This case study gives hotel group managements and hospitality managers insights, we
Hotels, hope, that will help them create the corporate identity communication process required for
Sports sport hotels and the marketing strategy needed in order to implement this identity.

Further reading
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Collins, J.C. and Porras, J.I. (1998), Built to Last, Random House, London.
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Restaurant Administration Quarterly, Vol. 43 No. 4, pp. 5-16.
Kedidi, S. and Torfve, C. (2005), Communicating corporate identity in international hospitality
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Patton, M.Q. (2002), Qualitative Research and Evaluation Methods, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks,
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Selame, E. (1997), Public relations role and responsibility in reflecting changes in companies culture,
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Van Doorn, N. and McCaskey, D. (2003), How to brand a luxury mini-chain, The Hospitality Review,
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Wells, W., Burnett, J. and Moriarty, S. (2000), Advertising Principles and Practice, 5th ed., Prentice-Hall,
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Upper Saddle River, NJ.

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About the authors


Ram Herstein is a senior lecturer and Head of Marketing at the Ruppin Academic Center,
Israel. Ram Herstein is the corresponding author and can be contacted at ramh@ruppin.ac.il
Eugene D. Jaffe is Head, MBA Programs and Professor of International Marketing, Ruppin
Academic Center and Emeritus Professor, Graduate School of Business Administration,
Bar-Ilan University.

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VOL. 29 NO. 6 2008 JOURNAL OF BUSINESS STRATEGY PAGE 43
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